As Owners of the Co-op, we all know incorporating fresh fruits and vegetables into our diets is a great way to promote good general health. They’re full of vitamins and minerals essential to our well being. From head, shoulders, knees, toes and everything in between, you can find a specific fruit or vegetable to target your specific needs. But, one thing almost all fruits and vegetables have in common: they’re good for your heart!

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in America. I’d be willing to bet that almost every single one of you reading this article has either known someone, or have yourself been affected in some way by heart disease. Eating a balanced diet can be a challenge. For many, finding the time and/or money to eat right isn’t always that easy. Everyone is busy. We’re going to work and going to class, taking care of this and that, and running the kids here and there. And, thanks to excellent and creative advertising and marketing, even when you think you’re eating healthy, odds are there’s some ingredient in that “whole grain, reduced fat, low calorie” snack that completely contradicts any of your good intentions.

As I mentioned earlier, we all know a diet full of fruits and vegetables is good for us in many ways. There are the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that fuel our bodies and keep us healthy. For our hearts, there’s fiber, and there’s no cholesterol.

Cholesterol: A Quick Overview
There are two types of cholesterol: HDL (high-density lipoprotein), and LDL (low-density lipoprotein). HDL is often referred to as the “good” cholesterol, while LDL is referred to as the “bad” cholesterol. LDL isn’t always “bad.” In an ideal scenario, our livers are producing all of the HDL and LDL our bodies need, and yes, LDL plays a vital role in our growth and cell health. The liver sends out the LDL, and any unused LDL is grabbed by the HDL, returned to and processed in the liver to eventually exit through the digestive system. In simplest terms, they work together. We run into problems when the HDL can’t keep up with the LDL, which is either a function of genetics, or diet. The LDL starts to build up in our veins and arteries, forms plaque, and can lead to high blood pressure, heart attack, and strokes.

Almost of our dietary cholesterol comes from animal fat. In addition to animal products, there are trans fats. Trans fats are found in “partially hydrogenated” vegetable oils. Both add to our overall LDL levels, and can decrease our HDL levels. This is what I’m referring to regarding the marketing of unhealthy products as “healthy.” Many “low fat,” “high fiber” products contain high levels of trans fats, which is why it’s so important to read the label and ask questions. Cheese curds deep-fried in partially hydrogenated vegetable oil are like a double-edged sword straight to the heart. That is unless the milk in the curds was from pastured cows.

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in both plant and animal products, and contribute to increased HDL (good cholesterol) levels. Spinach, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts are all rich in Omega 3s. And, the good news for the meat and dairy crowd: meat and dairy from grass-fed animals is a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids, and the Co-op offers a great selection of meats and dairy products from pastured and grass-fed animals.

Is it Rough Enough?
Fruits and vegetables are a good source of roughage, otherwise known as dietary fiber. There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Insoluble fiber primarily aids digestion. Soluble fiber dissolves into the blood stream and aids the liver in regulating cholesterol production (specifically bad cholesterol, LDL). In the simplest terms, we can think of fiber as the agent that helps keep our body’s plumbing free of clogs.

All fruits and vegetables contain fiber. Apples and bananas are a good choice in fruits. For vegetables, dark green, leafy vegetables, specifically chard and spinach, are high in fiber. One cup of cooked spinach will contain more fiber than one cup of raw spinach simply because you need 12 cups raw spinach to yield one cup cooked! Hearty greens, like kale and collards, are more effective at lowering cholesterol when steamed vs. raw. Steaming breaks down the cell walls, helping your body absorb nutrients rather than passing through your digestive system. Juicing will do the same. Fruit and vegetable smoothies are a great way to fill up in a heart smart way.

The best thing you can do, is eat a variety of fruit and vegetables (10 a day!), and get your heart rate up a minimum of 20 minutes a day. Just like every other muscle in your body, your heart needs a regular workout to stay strong. Stop in and grab a smoothie, some fresh fruits and vegetables, or any of the heart smart products we offer at the Co-op. Your heart will be happy you did, and so will you!

Liz LauerMusic TogetherPermaculture Design CenterUnion Theater